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Viewer’s guide for the 2015 Democratic presidential primary debate

Questions to consider and policy issues to watch for

​Central Michigan University debate experts want to help viewers get the most out of Tuesday evening's showdown.

Edward Hinck, Shelly Hinck and William Dailey, co-authors of "Politeness in Political Debates," used their expertise to provide viewers with questions to ask themselves and key elements to take note of when watching the Oct. 13 Democratic debate.

"In this debate we should be looking to see how the candidates distinguish their positions from one another. A debate where candidates offer specific information and engage in rich policy discussions would be ideal," Shelly Hinck said.

Questions to consider regarding each candidate

Bernie Sanders' electability:

  • How will voters react to Bernie Sanders, a self-described Democratic socialist?
  • Is he electable on a national stage?

Hillary Clinton's trustworthiness:​

  • How can Hillary Clinton address concerns about her personal email server usage while serving as Secretary of State?
  • Can she use House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy's disclosures that the hearings on Benghazi were politically motivated to her advantage in order to create perceptions of trustworthiness?
  • How can Hillary Clinton negotiate cultural expectations for females in a forum that calls for a masculine style of communication?
  • How can Hillary Clinton convey a political image that is both compassionate and strong? 
Jim Webb, Martin O'Malley and Lincoln Chaffee's candidacies:
  • How can each make a case for the audience to consider them as serious candidates?

Fundamental policy issues to watch for


  • Gun control, especially in light of the recent mass shooting in Oregon
  • Social issues such as gay marriage, abortion, Planned Parenthood
  • Affordable Care Act
  • Economy, including tax policies and the federal budget
  • Immigration, specifically taking note of the Syrian crisis
  • Energy and the environment, particularly regarding the Keystone pipeline and climate change
  • Other possible issues:
    • Income inequality
    • Rebuilding U.S. infrastructure


  • Iran nuclear deal and the U.S. relationship with Israel
  • ISIS, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and the global fight against terrorism
  • Russia with a focus on Vladimir Putin
  • Relations with China concerning cyber security and military affairs

Hinck, Hinck and Dailey are available for comment. Learn more about each expert below.

Edward Hinck
Hinck is a professor of communication and dramatic arts at Central Michigan University. He and other colleagues have a chapter in an upcoming book titled "Scrutinizing Argumentation in Context" on political leader debates in the United States, Great Britain and Egypt. Hinck served as director of forensics at CMU from 1988 to 2013. 

Shelly Hinck
Hinck is a professor of communication and dramatic arts at Central Michigan University. Her research focuses on civic engagement, with specific attention directed to political debates, service-learning, volunteerism and transformative learning. She has published articles in journals, such as "Argumentation and Advocacy," "Sex Roles," "American Behavioral Scientist," and "The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning."​ Hinck served associate dean of the College of Communication and Fine Arts from 2010 to 2014 and interim dean from 2014 to 2015. 

William Dailey
Dailey is the chairperson of communication and dramatic arts at Central Michigan University. Possessing a Ph.D. from Northwestern University, Dailey's basic interests are in the areas of conflict, bargaining and negotiating, and debate as a form of conflict. He has completed extensive research on how face-saving and face-threatening strategies shape audience's perceptions of candidates in presidential and vice presidential debates.​

Body language and the debate
Nonverbal communication expert analyzes debate candidates

Lesley Withers, a professor of communication and dramatic arts at CMU, is an expert in nonverbal and emotional communication and analyzes candidates' use of facial expression, eye contact, posture and gesture to communicate their messages. Withers also is available to speak to the media. 

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